"For I know the plans I have for you," declares the Lord, "plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future." Jeremiah 29: 11

Sunday, October 29, 2017

August 2017 Update - Better Late than Never

We wrote this update in August but never got around to posting it on the blog so here it is. As they say, better late than never.

We finished the Benin field service in early June and sailed for Las Palmas, Gran Canaria. The sail north was smooth sailing but challenging work wise for Mick. We had a number of difficulties with the port shaft control and clutching and had to operate much of the port shaft and associated engines in manual override. Our fuel economy was terrible primarily due to the fouling on the hull after 10 months sitting in port. But we made it safely only for a large seawater line to fail 10 minutes after finished with main engines was rung down from the bridge. The ship was then blacked out for 5 hours however God is good. We were safely moored at a shipyard.

We departed on holidays 2 days later flying to England. We spent 2 weeks in England being spoilt by Mick's cousins, aunt and uncle before heading to Germany where we spent a weekend with Tom and Angelika Kern who used to live in Newington and occasionally attended Bayside. Whilst in England we also got to catch up with Tim and Sharon Tretheway and their son Nathanael.

Hanging out with cousins

Catching up with Tim and Sharon Tretheway

Harry and Nathanael reunited

We then picked up our motorhome and spent three weeks adventuring in France and Switzerland. This included white water rafting, canoeing, canyoning, zip lining, acrobranch, mountain biking, hiking, visiting the start of Le Tour de France, velo rail, rail museum, Swiss Army knife making, chocolate factory and for Mick road bike riding up Alpe d'Huez. We also caught up with our good friend Myriam in Geneva. Fortunately Mick had received a small inheritance from a great aunt that allowed us to take such an awesome holiday. Overall we had a great time and returned to the ship thoroughly refreshed for another year.

The boys with Myriam in Geneva

White water rafting on the Isere River

Alpe d'Huez

We rejoined the ship in Las Palmas as shipyard was finishing. A very special event then was the visit by Tam's parents to the ship as guests for a week. We had kept it as a secret from the boys for 5 months and they were thrilled to see their grandparents. Shipyard never quite finishes on time and work continued right up to when we sailed on 4 August which was on time. We are currently on passage to Douala, Cameroon and have crossed the equator today - back in the Southern Hemisphere! We arrive in Douala on Wednesday to start our 5th field service. Amazing.

Boys with Nana and Bapa in Las Palmas

Harry is now ten and can roam the ship unaccompanied. Jack turns 16 tomorrow and is now 163 cm tall - 3 cm shorter than Mick. Mark turns 13 next Monday. School has started (yes, at sea) and the first week has gone well. The Academy is fully staffed again this year which is another blessing.

We have made the big decision to commit to a further 3 years with Mercy Ships. We discussed this throughout the summer and prayed about it. The boys are all very happy onboard and this was what they wanted. This will allow Jack to complete his schooling onboard. Then it will be seven years and we think we will take a break and come home. Of course with Mercy Ships building a new ship in China we do not know where we will be for those three years. We will leave this and the finances to God.

So that's about all the news. Mick is still Second Engineer and Tammy is now the Creative Coordinator in the Communications Department. Thank you for your prayers and support.


Mick, Tammy, Jack, Mark and Harry

Monday, October 23, 2017

Itinerant Bike Rider

Anyone who has followed me on Facebook or our journey on our blog would know of my passion for cycling. So over the last 5 years I have been lucky to borrow bikes most places we have visited thanks to some generous friends and family. And I have had the opportunity to ride in many of the countries we have visited. Here are a selection:

My trusty Focus MTB purchased ex-hire from Bikepoint in Tenerife in 2013.
Ridden in Canary Islands, Congo, South Africa, Madagascar, Benin and now Cameroon.

Murray Crawford's parents helped me find my
Africa road bike in Cape Town in 2014 for a bargain price

Borrowed this one from Jim Sibson in the summer of 2014.
The family rode from Bath to Bristol

Jack Parker's deadly "treadly" folding bike in 2014.
He should use it as an anchor for his canal boat.
Deadliest bike I have ever ridden.

Tom Kern borrowed this one from a friend for me
to explore the forests and mountains around Heidelberg in 2014.
Had a blast.

Ed McLeod from South Shields Velo Cycling Club lent me his beautiful
Bianchi whilst I was studying at South Tyneside College in 2015-16

My trusty trundler for getting about South Shields in 2015-16.
35 quid at Chichester Op Shop

My mate Peter Faase who always lends me his lovely Cervelo when we are home.
I think he likes to leave his Garmin on it, especially when I ride hills.

Riding in Mada in 2015.

Our good friend Viv who took me out riding Glenbrook to Waterfall
when we were home in 2015.

My trusty Cannondale Scalpel at the Highland Fling back in 2012?
Now hanging in Simon Moore's shed waiting for me to return.

Perhaps the nicest bike I have every ridden. I hired a bike
 to ride up and down Alpe d'Huez in 2017 and got an upgrade to a
new Scott Foil with Di2.

In summer 2017 we hired mountain bikes (Velo Tours Terrain) when
we were in the Vosges Mountains. With Jack and Tracy.

Riding VTT with the Unity Velo Club in the forest at Dibombari in 2017.

Friday, October 6, 2017

B2B - Togo to Nigeria

At the end of Benin I got to ride across Benin from the Togo border to the Nigerian border with my Bestest Benin Biking Buddy - Sharon.

Sharon was a pharmacist from Canada who was onboard for the Benin field service. Together with Saulo, Courtney and Tertius she joined me on several cycling adventures. In January we came up with the idea of riding border to border (B2B). Because of her on call schedule she was limited to one of two dates in April and May. Then in March I mentioned the idea to a friend, Hanno from South Africa, who works for MTN in Benin. Hanno had been onboard for Easter with his family and we had ridden to Ouidah and back (about 80 km) on Easter Monday. As we recovered in his pool we discussed the B2B ride and how to do it. He had a driver and was keen so we set a date of 21 May. Due to the distance - about 132 km we estimated - we decided to do it on roadies rather than MTBs. Tertius had left his roadie onboard so I asked if Sharon could borrow it and Hanno said he would try and borrow one as he only had a MTB.

Everything fell into place and Hanno picked us up with his driver - Mr Edwardo - at 0500 on Sunday morning.

Loading up at 0500 on the dock

We made it to the Togo-Benin border by about 0640 and were on our way by 0700. Lots of strange looks from the locals.

The three amigos at the Togo-Benin border

Sharon at the Togo-Benin border

Sharon and I feeling fresh at the Togo-Benin border

First break - Mono River

Just after our first break Hanno dropped back to take a phone call and said he would catch us up. Well, we soft pedalled for a while and then stopped when he did not appear. Ten minutes later the car appeared with Hanno's bike on the roof. He had snapped his chain and thought his day was done. No such luck. I had a chain breaker in my tools and quickly knocked out the damaged link and reconnected it two links shorter.


Up to Ouidah the riding was really scenic and the traffic light. But after Ouidah and into the outskirts of Cotonou the traffic became heavy and chaotic. Plus it was seriously hot by now - 40 degrees.

Outskirts of Cotonou - crazy traffic

Crazy hot - 40 degrees C

Our three trusty steeds

Last break - toll gates outside Cotonou

We did it - Nigeria-Benin border

Job done

Happy but exhausted
Final stats - 134 kms, 5 hours and 20 minutes, 25 kph, average temperature 33 degrees C, max temperature 44 degrees C.

The Garmin link:

B2B - Togo to Nigeria: Distance 133.82 km | Time 5:20:49 | Speed 25.0 kph | Elevation 326 m

The Strava link:

Thursday, August 31, 2017

Our kids ashore in Benin

Harry dancing at patient Naomi's discharge celebration 

One of the reservations I had about joining Mercy Ships, was how it would affect our 3 children.  I mean, what is it like to grow up on a ship, that changes location every few months, with kids from around the world as your classmates, remote from your extended family?  And how does this change you for the rest of your life?

We actually said when we started this journey, that if our children return home with more compassion and understanding of other peoples, then it will have been all worthwhile.  Well, in Benin, we were fortunate to see just that.

Firstly, Harry befriended a patient from Nigeria, Naomi.  At 15 years of age, Naomi's legs were bent and would not straighten.  She had been in a wheelchair for a number of years and came to the ship to be operated on by Dr Frank Haydon.  She then underwent 8 months of intensive physiotherapy to get her walking again.  She even walked down the gangway!  After patients have worked so hard, it is wonderful to celebrate their healing with them in a dance party.  Harry wanted to be part of Naomi's celebration and so he invited his teacher and classmate along.  They all chalked their hair and danced the morning away.  It was a huge blessing to see him so excited to be part of her healing and wanting others to share the joy.
Harry & I with Naomi and her Mum, Evelyn
The hair chalking pose

We also continued visiting the HOPE (Hospital OutPatient Extension) Centre in Benin for Sunday church services.  The services are always full of music, drumming and energy - plus you get to watch the patients' transformation in a regular fortnightly basis.  What changed this year, is how much more comfortable our boys were with the patients.
Mark's Jenga buddy (& Dad) at the Hope Centre

Jenga is a game that crosses all language barriers - Mark had some epic battles where the blocks resembled the Leaning tower of Pisa - yet still didn't fall.  Everyone sitting in the immediate vicinity was holding their breath when it finally toppled. He loved going back and other boys would find the Jenga blocks when they saw him arrive.

Jack really enjoyed going to the HOPE Centre and making cardboard ships with the patients.  He preferred to have a purpose in the visit - and this proved a great one.  He enjoys teaching and is a patient instructor.

What is really interesting about all of this, is how happy the younger patients are when they see our kids.  Our kids have become happy to break down barriers of language and culture with a game - Jenga, UNO, even thumb wrestling - it helps everyone to feel at ease.  And whilst they do this, they have realised that they are making someone's rehab, someone's waiting on results or someones' pain a little easier to manage.

We don't know how our time onboard this ship will affect our boys for the rest of their lives.  However, we know that one thing that they will take away from these years is a greater level of compassion and understanding of other's pain - and a lack of fear of those who look different to them or have experienced a life far more arduous that their own.  And that for us, is totally worthwhile.

Smiles say it all
Working together to build a mini ship - Friendship

Thursday, April 27, 2017

A little girl called Gifty

Gifty - before
I don't get little girls.  I have spent the majority of my working life surrounded by men and, Mick and I have three boys of our own. I get boys. I understand them and how they tick. I like how they are loud, energetic and messy.  In fact, despite the fact that many of my relatives and friends have little girls - I have only ever changed one girls nappy (diaper).  So - I'm not used to little girls and I rarely connect with them as patients.

However, sometimes they connect with you.  Rewind three months to January, when we started back in our routine of visiting the HOPE Centre every second Sunday for the patients' church service.  Going to the HOPE Centre is a way for our family to see the Mercy Ships mission unfold before our eyes.  Patients who live far away, come to stay before being admitted to the hospital.  We see the befores.  Some of them are quite confronting to see - especially for our boys.  Of course, once you sit with the patients, sing with them, play games with them - you don't see the "confronting" at all - you see the person.  
Then later on, we see the afters when they are discharged from the hospital.  It is easy when you've seen the afters, to forget about the befores - such is the radical change for so many of our patients.

 Gifty in D Ward with Joyce - her incredibly strong albino Mama
So this is how we came to know Gifty - she sat on us at a service one Sunday.  She decided that Mick and I needed to be sitting differently and proceeded to rearrange us as she saw fit.  She climbed all over us - putting our arms on each others shoulders and my head against Mick's.  I felt like a piece of plasticine.  And all of this was done without talking - as Gifty had a very large cleft in the middle of her face.  Essentially, she had no nose or top lip shape.  However, what she was missing in facial features, she made up for in personality.  So that is how we became friends.

Gifty, and her mum, Joyce are from Liberia in West Africa.  They both speak English as well as their mother tongue.  It's always wonderful to be able to communicate with patients - but even easier when you are not using a second language to do so.

Wanting a photo of her "Ship Mum"
We followed Gifty into the hospital for her very complex surgery.  She had her cleft lip and palette repair, had a nose created and also some cranial manipulation around her eyes.  It was a massive operation for a little 5 year old.  And she was not very happy in hospital. She wanted to go back and play in the HOPE Centre again as soon as possible.  But first, she needed to rest.  This gave Joyce and I a chance to get to know each other during visiting hours.  We played a lot of UNO of course and some other games as well. Actually, it was easy to know when Gifty was starting to feel less pain - she wanted to join in and slither of her personality began to resurface, albeit for short periods of time.

Much improved writing
Finally, she was allowed to leave the hospital and return to the HOPE Centre - visiting Outpatients frequently to get her wound checked out and for any other issues.  And so the waiting begins.

Hospital waiting is dead boring in Australia.  People sit there for hours - staring out the window.  We really are at the mercy of medical professionals - as they decide the best course of action for our loved ones.  I have really come to appreciate that it is so not different on the ship - the patient is discussed with all facets of the medical community - all away from their home, their windows, in air conditioning and waiting.  How boring is that?
Always time to play

In the HOPE Centre, they have activities like singing, board games and craft.  There is a big group of people, united as they undergo a similar experience in physical transformation. Often this includes therapy - physical therapy to get seized joints working again or learning to do something for the first time.  For Gifty, once her physical wounds were beginning to heal, it was time to get working on speech therapy.  We don't have a speech therapist on the ship - mainly because our cleft lip and palette patients tend to be either adults who need no motivation to work on speaking correctly or babies - who if corrected early enough, won't have any speech issues.  Of course, there are always a few kids that fall into the gap like Gifty.  Which means they can already talk fine, thanks and they don't want to work on doing something that is hard when they could be playing with friends elsewhere. Then throw into the mix, Dieticians, who take on the task of speech therapy with a good guide; and some willing volunteers and you get the idea of how it works.

So how do you make talking fun?  With bubbles of course.  With straws. With funny noises.  With 
colouring in.  And with learning letters and numbers.  So that is how Gifty, Joyce and I really got to know each other. And wow did she improve.  She became really careful in tracing her letters, rather than just making lots of colours all over the page.  She was getting louder when she was talking, as opposed to whispering in my ear.  And she was back to her normal self, running me to greet with a big hug and taking my hand, ready to learn.

And just like that, I've changed.  A little girl has stolen my heart.  Joyce asked for my photo one day, so she can show her family at home, who Gifty's ship Mum was - it took me a moment to realise that she meant me. I'm no longer a Mum who sees herself as very much a Mum of boys - I have had the privilege of sharing the joy of the gift that is little "Gifty".

Wednesday, April 12, 2017

Miracles do happen..an update from Madagascar

Remember Minette and Miliarne?  Those amazing young girls who were fistula patients in Madagascar last year? If you don't remember them, these are the links to first Minette's story: http://africandunnes.blogspot.com/2015/11/minette.html

Minette (left) and Miliarne - last year before the ship sailed
This was where we left them.  Fortunately, our good friend, Natalie, has stayed in Madagascar and is  working at the clinic founded by Mercy Ships, now operated by Freedom from Fistula.  What is even better is since we know Natalie, we get to hear about the patients that were not yet healed when we sailed out of Madagascar.

So first for Miliarne.  I am not a medical person - the details of Miliarne's fistula are lost on me.  However, there are some things I understand - they are universal.  I understood the tears when Miliarne was leaving the HOPE Centre last year - because there was nothing more Mercy Ships could do to repair her fistula.  And I understood that there was still a glimmer of hope that Freedom from Fistula may have a "super surgeon" who would look at her case.  

A crew member recently gave an update on Miliarne - letting us all know that several different surgeons had examined her and decided that the surgery was not possible.  So, with this in mind, one surgeon decided to take one last look to be sure that there really was nothing that could be done to repair her injuries.  And amazingly enough, they were no longer there.  No fistula.  No scar tissue.  All gone.  All healed.  A total miracle.  Amazing.

Natalie - now heading up the Obstetric Fistula clinic
Now for Minette - only a partial update but one full of hope.  I saw a text message from Natalie stating that Minette was having surgery today - 12th April in Madagascar.  They were covering Minette in prayer and really hopeful of a similar outcome to Miliarne. I know that God is a God who can heal because He did the impossible with Miliarne.  Several Doctors - all with the same opinion - declared Miliarne inoperable and not heal-able and that was without surgery. So please pray for a positive outcome for Minette. Pray for the Doctors and the Nurses - for wisdom and discernment.  Pray for complete healing.

Now Natalie is enjoying some much earned rest at home in Chicago - so we may not know how Minette's surgery went for a few more days.  However, when I do hear from her, I will make sure to let you know.

And an even newer update from Natalie - and a beautiful postscript to this story:- Best wake up news ever:

Thanks for your prayers.  God is good!